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Posts Tagged ‘fine dining’

I’ve lived within a 2 hour drive to NYC for most of my life and while all the amazing foodie destinations that the city has to offer have been calling me for years, it’s only recently that I’ve been lucky enough to have an easeful way to make a day trip New York, avoiding the exorbitant hotel costs of an overnight as well as the traffic and parking hassles inherent in any attempt to drive a car in for the day. With a dear friend offering me his unused apartment in Stamford on the weekends, I can easily drive there and take the train into the city, crashing at the apartment on either end of the trip allowing me a truly relaxed, affordable full day in fabulous New York City!

Last weekend, Paul and I took full advantage of this privilege and had a wonderful day visiting various pastry shops, seeing a number of excellent exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and finishing our day with a knock-out dinner at The Modern a fine dining restaurant located inside the Modern Museum of Art where Alsatian born chef Gabriel Kreuther is turning out some of the most gorgeous and delicious food around. I certainly found  its Michelin star and 3 stars from the NY Times, well deserved!

The view of the sculture garden from our table

We arrived a few minutes early for our 7:00 PM reservation and were at first seated at a horseshoe shaped banquette easily large enough for a party of 4. We liked the fact that we could sit right beside each other and both face out to the whole dining room but quickly discovered that in order to use the back of the built in leather seat, we would both have needed to be quite a bit stouter than we are to comfortably reach the table. Knowing that I would need to have some back support to really enjoy a long meal, we asked to be moved to one of the empty 2 tops on the other side of the room. The staff quite graciously honored our request and we were soon happily ensconced in extremely comfortable leather chairs that we could pull up as close or as far away from the table as we desired at any given moment, right beside a wall of windows that looked out onto the lovely MoMa sculpture garden.

The Modern dining room offers only a choice of a 4 course prix fixe, 3 savories and one sweet for $98 or the chef’s tasting menu for the whole table that offers 7 savory courses as well as a trio of desserts for $155. Wine pairings are offered for and additional $135. There is also a fine looking cheese cart available to add to either menu.

While everything on the tasting menu looked divine, each course from the 4 course option offers the diner 7 or 8 different choices so we decided that rather than both eat the exact same dinner, we’d each order what appealed most to us individually and share bites, a strategy that frequently employ and seems to work well for us. And this was no exception. What followed was one of the most delectable and enjoyable meals of my fine dining career and that’s saying a lot!

We began with an amuse of nettle panna cotta with a nasturtium and Riesling sauce, the peppery sauce a perfect accompaniment to the fresh spring green taste of the creamy panna cotta. Off to a fantastic start we eagerly awaited the rest of the meal, barely bothering with the bread, French and a whole grain rolls served with perfectly spreadable but slightly funky tasting butter. I was saving my stomach space for the meal and I was glad I did.

For my first course, I ordered Wagu Beef and Foie Gras “Damier” Passion Fruit Gastrique, a gorgeous presentation of a checkerboard of small squares of raw beef and smooth foie, each enhancing the rich flavor of the other and both brought to heavenly heights by the tart passion fruit sauce.

Paul’s Foie Gras Terrine with Roasted Artichokes, Green Peppercorn and Baby Turnip was also sublime, served with buttery, crisp toast points and topped with a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Smooth and rich, that little bit of maple sweetness really made the flavors pop!

For my next course, I selected the Potato Gateau, a crisp packet of thinly sliced potato filled with Benton’s country ham, pearl onions and comte cheese, topped with a few drops of pumpkin seed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds. A wonderful combination of flavors and textures, this dish brought the idea of a “hot pocket” to new heights.

Paul went with Hamachi, Sea Urchin, and Fennel Tart, an incredible taste of pure ocean floating on a mellow flavored fennel puree atop a crisp pastry round. A truly spectacular dish.

For our final savory course, I went for Organic Veal Tenderloin, Black Truffle, Asian Pear and Spinach and Fine Herbs Puree. The veal was fork tender and the flavors earthy and rich. I especially enjoyed the taste of the spinach puree with the veal.

Paul’s Long Island Duck Breast was brought out whole and sliced tableside, a production that was fun to watch but I’m not sure necessary. But the duck was tender and delicious, topped with a crust of black trumpet “marmalade” and served with a sauce made from Banyuls wine. It was all delcious but my favorite thing on the plate was a “Fleischschneke” of duck confit: a spiral of the confit rolled in a thin crepe. Yum!

After polishing off the plates, we placed our orders for dessert and eagerly awaited the treats to come. I had seen the sweets trolley making its way around the dining room and knew that some great chocolates would be enjoyed with our after dessert coffees and found myself appreciating how perfect The Modern’s portion sizes were. Each serving was enough to really enjoy and feel satisfied with all of the flavors, even sharing bites with my dining partner, but not so much that I felt stuffed before dessert was served. What a pleasure it was to be anticipating dessert without feeling as if I would bust before tasting more than a few bites!

The Top Layer of the Sweets Trolley

Desserts did not disappoint, and I happily polished off the Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquiose, crisp and chewy, encased in a layer of buttery caramel and served with a fresh raspberry sorbet.

A decadent daquiose!

Paul’s Lemon Napolean was not quite as rich, but scrumptious as well with smooth, tart lemon curd layered between thin crisp rounds of caramelized crepes and served with finely chopped exotic fruits and a truly spectacular fromage blanc sorbet. My only complaint is my usual pet peeve of how tiny the scoops of sorbet were. I admit I could have happily polished off a pint of the fromage blanc sorbet but I’m not exaggerating to say there was less than a teaspoon on the plate with the Napolean. I never can understand why so many fine dining establishments are so stingy with the frozen accompaniments to their desserts!

Another amazing dessert, the lemon Napolean

After licking the plates clean finishing the desserts, we ordered double decafe espressos and tried to exhibit a little restraint while choosing treats from the sweet trolley. Fortunately, we were beginning to feel full by this point so while I definitely wanted 1 of everything, I limited my choices to a couple truffles, a chunk of chocolate ganache cake, and a caramel and pinapple chocolate covered “lollipop.” Paul tried the candied nuts, a chocolate chip cookie, and some nut filled truffles. A veritable feast of fudgy fantasies, perfect with the steaming hot espressos.

The second layer of the sweets trolley!

Fully satisfied, we were ready for the check but before they brought the bill, they delivered 2 miniature ice cream cones, a mix of rich vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sorbet. A playfully sweet end to a truly spectacular meal.

Our selection of sweets

A note about the service at The Modern: They use a team approach so we didn’t have one person who was our primary waiter and we interacted equally with at least 5 different staff people over the evening. Everyone was prompt, courteous and knowledgeable but some were warmer than others. Personally, I prefer to develop a bit of a relationship with my wait person over the course of a long dinner but I still thoroughly enjoyed the evening and would go back in a heartbeat. For this kind of dining at this price point, I believe it’s one of the best to be found anywhere.

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I want to start this post with a disclaimer: I know I’m spoiled. I admit that I have lived a life of privilege, in every sense of the world, and certainly when it comes to fine dining I’ve been lucky enough to regularly partake in some of the best around.  So please understand that when I report disappointment with my birthday celebration meal this year, I’m not complaining. Well, I am complaining but I’m doing it with full knowledge of how high I set the bar due to the many fantastic opportunities I’ve previously enjoyed, with which I now compare every experience.

So, lucky me, my husband took me to the Big Apple for lunch in a world class restaurant and then to a Broadway show. In a town known for great food and entertainment, I had my pick of any of the fantastic fine dining establishments in The City. Unfortunately, my selection fell just a bit short of fantastic and I found myself wishing I had chosen differently.

For lunch, I chose a return visit to Bouley, where many years ago we had indulged in one of the most decadent and delicious meals I could recall. Chef David Bouley is classically trained French chef and his New York restaurant has earned two Michelin stars. I remembered being pampered to the max, sent all kinds of extra taste treats from the kitchen, as well as parade of desserts unlike any I had ever seen at that time. As is the great tradition of top tiered French restaurants, the generosity of Restaurant Bouley was memorable. That meal, one of our first dining experiences of seriously high caliber, was a treasured memory I was hoping to repeat, forgetting that since that time I have dined in numerous 3 starred places in Paris, as well as countless French bistros and bistronomiques in France. So while the meal was pleasant, it wasn’t even close the gastronomic glory I remembered and hoped for.

Restaurant Bouley had changed address since our last visit here and we were curious to see how it had evolved. The restaurant itself is lovely, with a welcoming foyer of fresh apples and an entrance salon filled with fresh flowers and lovely furniture.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation and we enjoyed the ambiance of this space while waiting for our table. Sadly, when it came time to seat us, we were led through the gorgeous sunlit front room, where every table was occupied, to a smaller cave like room in the back. Although this room was richly painted and elegantly appointed, I somehow felt slighted and was reminded of some of the snottier restaurants in Paris where English speaking tourists are relegated to a dingier room near the kitchen or on a different floor. But this was my own country and I had made the reservation almost a month in advance and told them it was a special birthday celebration and we still found ourselves seated in the small, dark, back room with 3 tables of Japanese tourists and one couple dressed in jeans and plaid flannel.

We decided to make the best of it and enjoy the fact that we were seated side by side on a very comfortable couch where we both had a fine view of the room and all the food that was being delivered to every table.

Lunch began with an amuse of puree of pumpkin soup, topped with lardon and crème fresh.  This was deliciously smooth and perfectly spiced and raised our hopes for a top-notch meal.  Sadly, we were to be disappointed.  While every plate was beautifully presented and none of the dishes that followed were bad, they each lacked any kind of serious “yum” factor. The flavors were so subtle that in some dishes that the ingredients were only identifiable by the description on the menu.

A perfect example was my first course described as : Organic Local Green Asparagus with roasted pencil asparagus fresh garden herbs, basil dressing in a comte cloud. Having enjoyed a number of fantastic pieces of good aged comte cheese in France, I was disappointed to be unable to discern anything remotely similar on my tongue. The asparagus were perfect but the “comte cloud” mostly resembled cream, whipped to just shy of butter. Delicious, but no sharp bite of a good comte cheese, and no basil to be seen or tasted either.

Asparagus, comte cloud, basil

Sadly, my second course, Porcini Flan, Alaska live dungeness crab with black truffle dash, had not a note of truffle and the “flan” turned out to simply be a few tiny pieces of custardy egg floating in a porcini flavored broth. Loads of crab swimming in there as well, but the dish lacked the layers of flavor or texture needed to make it a standout.

Crab and Porcini Flan (w/ truffle?)

The other dishes we ate included:

Sea Trio (cod, tuna, hake)

Blackened Cod

Breast of Duck, perfectly cooked

Dover sole, slightly over cooked, in a barely discernable citrus sauce

Desserts were disappointing as well, especially with my memory of our last meal at Bouley, where dessert had been such a highlight including a special rice pudding (one of my favorites) for a birthday treat after three other complex and inventive sweets. This time, the “Chocolate Frivolous” made up of chocolate brulee, chocolate parfait, hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate walnut spice bread, white coffee ice cream, prune armagnac ice cream, sounded heavenly but each element was so heavy and over sweet I hit chocolate fatigue (not an easy state for me to reach!) in just a few bites. And the prune ice cream tasted bitter as could be and had a distinctive flavor of dirt! Not at all pleasant. The second dessert, Hot Caramelized Anjou Pear valrhona chocolate, biscuit Breton, hot toffee sauce, rosemary & Tahitian vanilla ice cream, was more successful, but the rosemary flavor in the ice cream was way too intense and distracting from the other flavors in the dessert.

Pear and Valrona chocolate tart w/ rosemary (?!) ice cream

Way too much chocolate, even for me!

My special birthday “treat” that arrived with a candle looked gorgeous but was a severe let down. Very thin slices of over-ripe pineapple were topped with a scoop of some kind of sorbet that was so incredibly tart it was literally inedible. It was a nice thought to have a candle and the Happy Birthday sentiment written in chocolate on the plate rim but c’mon! A little effort here?

Lovely to look at, terrible to taste

We ended our meal with expresso and a sad little mignardise tray that held a few tired little sweet bites including stale macarons and a decent chocolate ganache truffle. They brought us the bill and then asked if we’d like another expresso. We assumed a second was on the house since they’d already brought the bill but after accepting their offer; they whisked our bill away and added 2 more expressos ($5 each!!!) to our already hefty tab. So much for that remembered generosity.

A pretty sparse mignardise tray

My conclusion? After all the outrageously great dining that I’ve been blessed to indulge in when visiting France, I have realized that I’m bound to be disappointed eating expensive French food here in the US. For my subsequent visits to NYC I’ll be choosing from the countless other delicious cuisines available in that great restaurant town.

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Last Sunday was my honey’s birthday and yes, there were cards and gifts. Yes there were expressions of love and well wishes from family and friends. But more importantly, there was fabulous food! Nothing says celebration like indulging in ridiculously delicious fat and sugar laden treats and we definitely did that with a hit parade of many of his favorites spread out over the weekend.

Pastry from Le Petite France

After a home cooked meal on Friday of simple pan fried chicken thighs, a potato gratin, rich with cream and aged asiago cheese and Caesar salad we were off to a great start for the culinary celebration of the completion of another cycle around the sun for my sweetheart. Saturday morning, we headed to Le Petite France (http://www.lpfbakery.com/), for a pastry pig-out that would tide us over until our reservation that evening at our favorite restaurant: Max Dowmtown.

Max’s is the place to go for consistently fine, top quality and beautifully presented food, particularly meat. We started with their famous chopped salad, a delicious mélange of fresh chopped veggies with excellent gorgonzola cheese in a sweet and tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling virtuous for choosing a salad over the lobster raviolis for our first course, we didn’t hesitate to dig into the enormous portions of sizzling animal protein we ordered for our mains. Mine was a double thick cut, bone in pork chop, the crusty, peppery sear encasing moist and amazingly tender pale pink porkiness. The chop was served with haricot vert and a brioche, cheddar, and cranberry stuffing. Sautéed tart apples and a pork jus reduction rounded out the plate and the flavors all combined perfectly to make this a fantastic choice.

Max’s double thick pork chop (remember you can click on the pics to enlarge!)

The birthday boy ordered the Brandt rib eye (http://www.brandtbeef.com/); an incredible treat that we’ll order any time it’s available. Brandt beef is truly something special, especially flame charred on the outside and bloody rare all the way through. Topped with pan wilted watercress it was served with a sampler of house made sauces including classic béarnaise, thyme jus, blue cheese, cognac peppercorn, and house made A-1. We also ordered a heaping pile of crisp and flavorful sweet potato fries, just to gild the lily.

Outrageous Brandt ribeye and swet potato fries

We tucked into this feast of meaty goodness, trading bites of the beasts and trying all the sauces. While we finished most of the sides, we realized that if we wanted to have any room for dessert, we’d have to quit while there was still meat left on the plates and ask for doggie bag. Woof-woof!

For dessert we went with something billed as Granny Twitchell’s Secret Chocolate Cupcake. Apparently, Granny’s recipe is no longer a secret but Max’s pastry chef has her own version where she cuts a hole in the top of the dense chocolate cupcake and fills it with heath bar toffee crunch, chocolate and caramel sauce and then frosts the whole thing with an insane amount of chocolate butter cream. Unable to believe this didn’t come with ice cream, we specially ordered a scoop to cut the intensity of all that chocolate.

Outrageous chocolate birthday cupcake

Let me take this opportunity to do a little rant on a pet peeve of mine. What’s up with those teeny-tiny scoops of ice cream that fine restaurants serve with dessert? They always seem to use a melon baller as opposed to an ice cream scoop! Am I the only one who doesn’t want to run out of ice cream long before the accompanying sweet is gone? I’m sorry but if it fits on the spoon and can be eaten in one bite, that’s not a scoop of ice cream.

Phew! I feel better. And I suppose it’s just as well that the ice cream was so scant since that prevented us from scarfing down the whole gooey, choclatey mess. We added the remains to our already hefty take away package and stuffed as I was, in my mind I was already creating the next day’s fabulous birthday dinner made mostly from leftovers!

Sunday started with my famous French toast and then I really went to work in the kitchen. Recycling is good for the environment! Maybe not so good for the waistline, especially in this case, but how marvelous to make a new and delicious dinner and dessert culled mostly from previous days goodies.

Birthday breakfast of my famous cinnamon French toast with crisp bacon

For an appetizer, we had fresh sea scallops in a citrus beurre blanc. Then I sliced the leftover pork into my homemade barbeque sauce, topped it with sautéed onions and served it on fresh baked sesame seed hard rolls. With Friday night’s scalloped potatoes and re-crisped sweet potato fries, it was a great Sunday supper. I felt a little guilty with no green on the plate but quickly forgave myself knowing that we’d be eating more than our fair share of veggies during the week to pay penance for a weekend of eating high off the hog (pun intended!)

Our first course of scallops in citrus beurre blanc

Barbecued pork on homemade roll w/ scalloped poatoes and sweet potato fries

To finish off the weekend and the birthday celebration, I invented a new dessert by baking a fresh vanilla cupcake, and stuffing it with Granny’s leftover chocolate mess, toasted chopped pecans, and serving with 2 big scoops of Ben and Jerry’s pistachio ice cream! Creative use of leftovers is one of my favorite pastimes and I outdid myself this time, making the dinner at Max’s a birthday gift that kept on giving!

Recycled birthday cupcake

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